"If only there were people to put in those fancy costumes."
Like most sequels, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ demonstrates that lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place. Indian director Shekhar Kapur returns with his creative visual style, but has forgotten to populate his lush landscape with interesting people.Kapur and screenwriters William Nicholson (“Shadowlands”) and Michael Hirst (the original 1998 “Elizabeth”) examine two potentially intriguing aspects of the English queen’s reign: her rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots (a sadly underutilized Samantha Morton) and the fateful battle with the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, the three of them have great difficulty juggling the dual storylines and wind up shortchanging both halves of the tale.
Blanchett has returned to play the role that earned her first Oscar nomination, but this time the screenwriters don’t give her as much to work with and stick her and the other actors with dialogue that’s as stiff as Elizabethan clothing.
For example, Sir Walter Raleigh (suavely played by Clive Owen) opines, “We mortals have many weaknesses; we feel too much, hurt too much or too soon we die, but we do have the chance of love.” Perhaps this sounds great in iambic pentameter, but Owen has to go to Herculean lengths to release those clumsy words from his lips.
In this film the pirate Raleigh is juggling upsetting Spanish sea captains by looting their ships and is risking the Queen’s displeasure by romancing her lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish, “Candy”). The romantic triangle feels empty and flat despite the considerable talents of the three leads. Apparently spouting florid verse doesn’t lead to much onscreen chemistry.
Elizabeth can’t waste too much of her time fretting over the lack of quality suitors or whether Raleigh can do more than tell her what she wants to hear. A menacing priest Catholic priest (Rhys Ifans) has teamed up with King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla) to try to engineer an overthrow of the Protestant Elizabeth using British Catholics.
The first “Elizabeth” had an espionage plotline similar to this one, but the filmmakers didn’t burden it with the distracting subplots that run through the current film. By the time Philip launches the Armada, the story has languished in a scattershot malaise.
There are allusions to the current War on Terror (with Geoffrey Rush’s Sir Francis Walsingham torturing tightlipped Catholic prisoners), but the allegory is underdeveloped. Kapur made the first film intriguing by making the feuds between sixteenth century British Catholics and Protestants a metaphor for the 1990s riots between Hindus and Muslims in his hometown of Mombay. This time both the contemporary allusions and the nods to history are too convoluted to inform or entertain.Kapur and his cohorts probably figured with more money they could squeeze in more content. The production is impressive to look at, with a wider palette and some impressive battle sequences. Still, it’s hard to enjoy all that naval carnage when the people on the ships are just as wooden as the planks.